I like to spend this time of year doing a spot of auditing. Lots of lever-arch files and pointing at things with pens.
It’s a measure of how I’ve come to relax and unwind in late December. The holiday helps free-up some space in my head. The process allows me to celebrate what’s been good in the year, reflect on the less good stuff and think about what next year might bring.
This is an unusually long post, but it is a thorough audit as you would expect somebody with my obsessive tendencies to indulge in.
I’ve separated the post into ‘Blog Content and Number’, things from my ‘Journal’ which have jogged my memory and a few goals for 2016.
The Content and the Numbers
All of the copy from this year’s posts fed into Wordle
Let’s get the boring numbers out of the way. (If you’re a PR, you should read the footnote to this post – it contains important information which should help shape your expectations.)
Total page views for 2015 were 30,889 (compared to 30,774 in 2014).
The highest traffic generating post was Eurovision 2015: Can YouTube data predict who will win? (1,245 views). The best performing page this year was the blog homepage (2,779 views).
A good post on this blog can hope to notch up 100-150 views across the year and was, from a personal perspective, worth the effort. (If that’s achieved in a week then that’s a major achievement in terms of timing, content and messaging.)
75.9% of the posts on this blog generated more than 100 page views during 2015. Nearly 50% of posts published this year were viewed between 150-200 times in the space of a week.
What jumped out at me when I looked over the stuff I’d blogged about in 2015? I made a list. Here’s a selection of content highlights from that list and why they’re important to me.
1. Simon Rattle and the LSO
Rattle’s appointment as Music Director at the LSO finally ended months of speculation.It also led to talk of, a feasibility study into and much heated discussion about a new concert hall for London. I’m excited by the prospect of Rattle’s return in 2017.
2. Me and Radio 3
There has been a trial separation between us for a few years now, but one look at the number of times I’ve blogged about Controller Alan Davey’s speeches and interviews and I can see how I’ve buried the hatchet and come back to the network. A lot of that I suspect is to do with Davey himself (see above). His speech at the Voice of the Listener Conference (and at the 2015/16 season launch) was particularly reassuring. Roger Wright was good, of course. Davey is different: he is the personification of Radio 3. He also loves cats.
3. Meeting Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas
Alex and Bianca represented the UK at Eurovision this year. I got to meet them on a press day in central London a month or so before the contest.
They were both charming people, completely up for Eurovision and totally engaged with fans, wanting to do everyone proud. My meeting really established what turned out to be a really positive Eurovision experience this year, not least because whenever I met the duo after that, they always made a point of saying hello. I felt included by them in a way I’ve never felt before and I really appreciated that.
The song didn’t translate into votes and there as, as I feared there might be, quite a lot of back-biting going on amongst fans out in Vienna. Shameful and embarrassing. But Alex and Bianca have since then maintained their sense of pride in participating in the event and that, as a fan, means far more to me than where they are on the voting table.
The time I spent working with the Radio 2 Team (and the marvellous Alex Grundon producing content for BBC Local Radio) saw me experience an entirely different, considerably more efficient, style of workplace communication too. Direct, clean language needed to accomplish short-term goals for live radio output. I suspect that is where my now unease with email as a form of communication has stemmed from this year.
4. Going to Verbier
Three or four posts mixing reviews, interviews and features about my trip to the Verbier Festival in July this year. I visited the town in the middle of its classical music festival for four days during which time I met Daniil Trifonov, Jan Lisiecki and Gautier Capuçon.
Verbier was a remarkable location. The clear air helped me gain some clarity on the kind of work I’d like to be doing more of in the future. Put bluntly: more freelance writing involving international travel. My article appeared in Australia’s Limelight magazine.
Partly influenced by work, partly by coaching and the self-reflection which follows, the theme of change has cropped up a lot in my thinking this year. I passed my ten year anniversary at the BBC in July of this year – a chance to celebrate the unorthodox path I’ve followed to the role I have now in content production at the corporation.
The threat of job cuts across the organisation also demanded confronting some difficult questions about how ready I was for change, how I wanted to be involved in that change and what my feelings were when change was imposed on me. It was all good work – good mental housekeeping, if you like – but it saw me confronting some difficult personal truths.
One post which really stands after out all of this time, is the OAE’s Proms performance of Brahms 1 which in itself touched on Will Norris’ appointment at Tafelmusik. It’s a post which is reflected in my journal entries too (see later). Lesson learned? Don’t compare yourself to others. Map out your own journey, just as others have.
6. Albert Herring at Royal College of Music
Very little else to say about RCM’s production of Albert Herring other than it was utterly brilliant.
7. Radio 1 Ibiza Prom
I wasn’t entirely sure I’d enjoy this Prom, but hearing a larger-scale orchestral version of many dance classics in the Albert Hall (and hearing the audience there go wild for it) was an unexpected pleasure. It also prompted a heartfelt post as a result.
8. Junior Eurovision
I love going on trips where there’s a certain amount unknown stuff to be discovered. I also like nice hotels, cheap travel and the opportunity to create stuff too. My trip to Sofia to witness the Junior Eurovision met all of those criteria, provided me with an opportunity to write for ESCInsight and reunited me with audio production, something I hadn’t done for seven or years before. Once I was back in the UK, I got thinking about podcasting again.
The trip reinforced something quite powerful for me. Namely, the extent to which we are doing the younger generation a disservice in the way we write about them and the things we think about them. Junior Eurovision, alongside the BBC School Report project I worked on for BBC Communications, demonstrated how well-informed, articulate and insightful young people really are and the extent to which we as adults overlook that.
9. Falling out of love with Facebook
Me and Facebook have parted ways. Or at least, I’m not using it for anything other than messenging people I haven’t got email addresses for and maybe the ocassional posting here and there. The impact of not using it has been dramatic. First, I don’t go back to it checking to see whether anyone has posted anything – a measure of the extent to which I have used it as an approval mechanism. Second, my anxiety levels have dropped tremendously. Third, I sleep better now and I dream when I do so.
10. Meeting Katie Derham on Strictly and Hacker T. Dog at CBBC
I’d never watched Strictly before and the only reason I did this year was because Radio 3 and BBC Proms presenter Katie Derham was participating. Watching the series I felt as though I wasn’t just rooting for a dancer, but also for a brand. By far the loveliest thing about the entire experience was getting the chance to go to Elstree and interview The Derham herself. A blueprint for similar kinds of things I’d like to do in 2016.
The Derham was a joy, but an unexpected and unplanned pleasure was meeting the amazing Hacker T. Dog. Me and publicist Charlotte Martin (she was holding the camera, just so we’re clear) completed this little creation in one take, completely unrehearsed. A really fun little experience.
What have I written in a journal that I haven’t included in blog posts? What follows isn’t a complete representation of my journalled year, but the selected highlights.
I do my journal writing as soon as I get up. Unsurprisingly, one of the first things I seem to have written about each morning is a reference to how much sleep I got the night before. In my journal I see there are ocassions when its been deep and uninterrupted, and other ocassions when I’m waking up early (usually the sign of stress and anxiety). Part way through the year I’ve found a ways of battling the early wake-ups by forcing myself to stay in bed and drift off again. It seems sleep is very important to me, so too vivid dreams – reliable indicators that things are on an even keel.
Chronic stress and how it leads to ill-health
I knew I had experienced a stressful year dealing with all sorts of different things, but hadn’t appreciated the impact the day to day was having on my mood, outlook and my interactions.
Part way through the year I went down with what at first presented itself as a stomach bug, then a potential ulcer. All tests came back negative. After that the illness seemed to pass. Later in the year I went down with a bladder infection which required a surprising amount of rest to recover from.
It’s only reading over my journal that I come to realise the extent to which stress had an impact on me emotionally (there were some entries I remember writing as a release, which reading over them again today leave me feeling sad, perhaps even shocked, about their intensity).
More reading around the subject leads me to wonder whether these prolonged periods of stress contributed to a lessening of my immune system. I never previously thought of myself as any more stressed with day to day life than the next person. Nor did I reckon on being one of those kind of people whose physical health would be contributed to by stress. Now, I’m more convinced.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t dismiss stress and take a moment to reflect on whether its contributing to our physical health.
Meaningful respectful interactions
Meaningful respectful interactions is a need I’ve identified more and more as the year has gone on. I recognise the value I draw from one-to-one face-to-face conversations too. Various journal entries have had the pernicious presence of email lingering in the background.
As the year closes I am convinced that email is the very worst kind of communication, so too Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter. Earlier in the year I wrote, “Email constricts the mind, forcing us to juggle with interpretations of tone, motivation and a range of different potential outcomes, making subsequent face to face communication very challenging.”
Meaningful respectful interactions are what I’m striving for in 2016, so too recognising those with whom such interactions are unlikely to happen. Recognising the toxic ones (and avoiding them) also seems like a good goal too.
The BBC in Charter Review
My 10 year BBC anniversary coincided with the Licence Fee settlement, an intensifying of the Charter Review period and an increase in the amount of criticism directed at the organisation for the range and quality of its output.
At various points in my journal there’s an uneasy juxtaposition with me trying to work out what I want to do next professionally (and preparing myself for the possibility of that next opportunity not being at the BBC), alongside a perception that people outside the organisation don’t rate it as much as I do.
The inevitable question arose: just how important is it to believe in and advocate a brand in order to work for it?
Verbier, Sofia and Elstree
A real insight was found first in Verbier (and later reinforced in Sofia later in the year): I thrive on short-term interactions with reasonably media savvy individuals with whom I can build rapport quickly, illiciting distinctive, authentic and sincere interview material. I’d go so far as to say that I’m engergised by those interactions. The blog posts featuring Daniil Trifonov, Jan Lisiecki, the radio package I made for ESC Insight and my video interview with Katie Derham are good examples. I’d like to be doing more of that. It comes easy.
Confronting False Histories
By far one of the most pleasing experiences this year was catching up with old school acquaintances. There’s a picture attached to the mirror on the wall in our living room featuring me, Mike and Emily. Every time I see the picture I smile.
The afternoon we all spent together was easy, putting pay to a lot of false histories I’d established in my mind in the intervening years about what school was like, how I fitted in with people.
An extended afternoon chatting embedded some forgotten fond memories of school days. The picture with Mike and Emily was taken towards the end of the afternoon. I look on that picture and see warmth and happiness.
Learning more about writing
I’ve been using Shaun Levin’s Writing Maps and Amber Lea Starlife’s Year Long Writing Prompts at various points this year. I see the difference in my writing when I do too. All sorts of surprising things emerge from writing prompts that the experience can be really invigorating and self-affirming.
My understanding about how I write has changed too. Very early on in the year I recognised that I had an expectation that everything had to be planned out and plausible in my head before I started writing anything down, especially where fiction writing was concerned.
When I asked myself what would be the most difficult thing to do (bash out a first draft regardless of its quality just so you know you’ve done that), I went ahead and did just that. What I then realised was that the process of drafting prompted all sorts of other ideas I hadn’t previously even considered.
My piano practise – sessions optimised in 10 minute bursts – prompted me to wonder whether the same burst approach might work with writing too. It does. Start with small bite-size chunks and in time you’ll build up the stamina to write for longer more effective periods of time.
Coaching teaches me more and more
I’ve spent some time with a number of coaching clients this year all of whom have unwittingly taught a few home truths about myself. I continue to find coaching one of the most satisfying parts of my career and wouldn’t be surprised if in future years more and more of my time is dedicated to coaching and mentoring others.
So, having indulged in all of this analysis of the past year (more than I’ve done in previous years), what of 2016? What do I want to achieve? What would I like to have crossed off the list come this time next year? Here’s a quick list.
1. Continue to self-publish but recognise and take action when I’m doing it for approval.
2. Use email, especially at work, as little as I possibly can and only as a last resort.
3. Reduce the amount of stress in my life; actively seek out ways to nurture a stress-free existence.
4. Build on my confidence writing fiction; become more at ease bashing out ideas and returning to first drafts.
5. Make more audio and get more people plugged in to it.
6. Blog more, but write less copy.
7. Continue to focus on classical music, but widen the content opportunities, using events as opportunities to talk more broadly about genre. Each year, Eurovision is my holiday from classical music. I want that to remain the case. I also want to capitalise on a newfound fondess I have for the contest and its many fans.
8. Find a publisher.
9. Build on the piano accompaniment I’m committed to for a relative’s violin diploma, and by the end of the year finalise the works I want to play in my ABRSM Piano Diploma.
10. Identify the areas I want to work in post-BBC (whenever that situation arises) and the kind of work I want to be doing.
Footnote: PRs Beware
This is a personal blog. I don’t expect the figures to be high, nor do I especially value them being high either. That isn’t why I write this blog.
Thoroughly Good is a platform for my interests, one that gives me permission to say what I want in the way that I want to. Sometimes that means lots of people come and peer at it, other times its the relative close network of people who drop by and plough their way through the copy. It’s those I’m writing for. They’re the people who mean a lot to me. They are the valued (returning) customers.
So, if you’re basing your judgment on figures, you’re doing me a disservice.